Omicron variant presents like malaria, experts say

A Uganda People’s Defence Forces medical officer inoculates a woman with the Covid-19 vaccine in Kampala late last year. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • The experts say the signs and symptoms keep on changing but most people have headaches, cough, sore throat, joint pain, fever, body weakness and flu.

The new fast-spreading Omicron variant of the coronavirus presents with the same symptoms as malaria and flu, health experts have said.

Dr Moses Ocan, the president of Uganda Pharmacological Society, says: “The signs and symptoms keep on changing but most people have headaches, cough, sore throat, joint pain, fever, body weakness and flu.”

Omicron has come at a time when most people have been exposed to earlier variants and others have been vaccinated, which has built some kind of immunity. This is the reason for the fewer deaths compared to the previous variants.

However, experts insist it is important to take vaccination very seriously because not everyone’s immunity gets boosted.

“We have had less than five deaths from the new variant but people should not take vaccination for granted. We don’t know how those who have not been vaccinated can get the protection,” Dr Ocan, who is also a lecturer from the Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics at Makerere University, says.

People who are vaccinated get mild symptoms, according to Dr Sabrina Kitaka, a senior medical consultant at Mulago National Referral Hospital.

“Fewer people are getting critically ill compared to the Delta variant. More evidence is needed to determine the long term effects of this variant,” she says.

Statistics from the Ministry of Health indicate 1,658 new cases of Covid-19 by press time. 

Mr Emmanuel Ainebyoona, the ministry’s spokesperson, says: “Much as the Omicron variant is believed to be less severe, the number of those getting admitted into high dependency unit (HDU) and intensive care unit (ICU) is slowly increasing. Mulago has 40 patients, out of whom 28 are in HDU and 12 in the ICU.”

In his national address on Friday night, President Museveni announced plans to reopen the entertainment, sports, transport sectors and schools this month but stressed that the decision is reversible if the number of those hospitalised climbs up to 50 percent hospital capacity. 

The President revealed that currently, there are 187 ICU beds in government hospitals, 475 HDU beds and a total of 3,900 Covid-19 beds.

Asked whether the vaccines are able to protect someone from the Omicron variant, Dr Ocan says: “There is not a lot of information about it but the population in Europe and the US that have been almost fully vaccinated show that majority are catching it and the numbers are increasing.”

Even after being fully vaccinated, experts recommend a booster dose.
“We are now looking at having booster doses because the protective period of the vaccine is six months. As long as the virus is still around, one may even require to be vaccinated at least twice a year.”

According to current statistics from the Ministry of Health, so far, 11.4 million vaccine doses have been administered countrywide, and the Covid test positivity rate is 21.4 percent.

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